Keanu Boonzaier16 min read

Hello Keanu! Could you introduce yourself?

Hi! I’m Keanu, a photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. I work in multiple niches of photography, but my love lies with landscape photography. There is nothing better than the first rays of light peeking over a mountain top early in the morning with a freshly brewed cup of bean juice (coffee) and my camera. 

I am currently shooting on the Canon EOS R system. My favorite photo is one I recently took on a spontaneous trip with two friends. The sun was nearly completely set; luckily, I caught the last bit of light-catching the tip of a peak. Visually this photo might not be that different from my other photographs. I took it with my faiancé’s Canon EOS M50, and for me, that was a reminder that it doesn’t matter whether you have the best gear; if you’ve got a passion for your craft, you can create amazing things. 

Picture shot by Keanu Boonzaier

I currently work as a freelance photographer and graphic designer. However, this year I would like to focus solely on photography to start a full-time business as a photographer and videographer. At the moment, I am busy working on my website, which will include photographic prints, alongside my more commercial photography portfolio.

As a landscape photographer, it is not easy to get unique photographs, especially in well-known locations. What makes my photography unique isn’t necessarily my editing style but rather taking the path less traveled and photographing landscapes that people do not come by daily on social media.

Some of my earliest memories were of me using one of my mom’s old Kodak film cameras, those janky ones with the AA batteries. Since then, I’ve learned to love the craft, and I enjoy the challenges of learning new skills and bettering my photography. 

Tell us about your first introduction to photography, what’s your backstory?

I’ve always been drawn to cameras from a young age. Funny enough, I remember my first photo was of my dog when I was 6 years old. Fast forward to 2015; I graduated in Commercial Photography from the Stellenbosch Academy of Design & Photography, where I learned a great deal about the technical side of photography. Soon after I graduated, is when I really got into landscape photography as a niche. 

I got started in landscape photography because I loved seeing beautiful places that you don’t see on a day to day basis. I loved getting out of the city and into nature. It has a calming effect. That’s what I wanted to showcase on social media, capturing a moment of serenity and hopefully having my audience experience this feeling when looking at my work. 

Since starting, how did you develop your style? 

I developed my style over the past 6 years through trial and error and A LOT of YouTube videos. I am constantly on my phone, researching new skills, new editing styles, etc. but in the end, going out and using your gear is the only way to get better and really hone your skills. 

One of the biggest things I have done to improve and develop my style was creating depth in my photos. Starting, I got really frustrated because my photos would seem flat. Over the years, I have focused more on my surroundings and how to use them to my advantage to create layers in my photographs. 

When preparing for shoots, I do a lot of research to find a specific location, browse hashtags, use Google Maps, and most importantly, check the weather forecast as it plays a massive role in the outcome of your photo. The weather you are shooting in can drastically change the feeling you are trying to portray.

Once I have decided on a date and location, I make sure all my gear is fully charged and packed in my camera bag. There is nothing worse than seeing a perfect shot opportunity and realizing there is only one bar on your battery. 

Since starting, what has worked to attract fans and followers? 

The idea of attracting new followers is always a daunting experience, you constantly compare yourself to your niche competitors, but you should focus on your own work. Just remember, everyone starts at zero. Personally, what has worked to attract followers to my social media accounts is to engage with your audience, reply to comments and messages from your followers, and show them that you appreciate their feedback and support. A simple “thank you” goes a long way.

I have also learned that using hashtags properly can really benefit your engagement. Using random hashtags on a post will not work. Actually, take the time and research the hashtags that have a greater chance of getting your image seen. Don’t just use oversaturated hashtags. Look at smaller tags within your niche, and you will be surprised at how quickly you can grow. 

People tend to forget that people follow you want to see your work regularly, so be sure to post frequently, make a small content plan for yourself, and you will definitely see a difference in your growth. This has worked for me in the past and is probably one of the most important things to do.

Then there are the dreaded algorithms everyone keeps talking about, it can be a real bummer, but if you learn how it works and do some research, you will realize you can beat the algorithm. For the most part, if you stay active on your social media platform, you will definitely get more engagement.

Through starting as a photographer, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Starting as a photographer, I have made many mistakes, I think everyone does, but that’s part of the process of becoming a great photographer one day. Before any shoot, make a small checklist for yourself, add things to the list like what shots you want to get, are there certain shots that your client requested, etc. also, I can’t stress this enough, make sure your batteries are all charged, and your memory cards are formatted before your shoot. One mistake that I have also made is to delete images from a shoot; make sure to back up your images. You never know if that client might want the images later on or if the transfer you sent them might have failed.

Some advice I can give you from past experiences that I have had is to have a schedule for shoots; the worst feeling is to double book a date or, even worse, to forget that you had a shoot booked. Get yourself a calendar that you can put in your office, or a diary, whatever works best for you.

I can give you some other advice to shoot as much as you can, I know this is something obvious, but it really does help a lot. Do some free shoots for people when you are just starting, yes you won’t get paid, but you can quickly start building a portfolio.

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

My biggest achievement so far has been the privilege to do this interview. In the past, I have never had the self-confidence even to consider doing something like this, and I feel that many photographers feel this way.

I have learned that without even trying, you will never know the outcome; for all you know, you might get the opportunity to showcase your work to a massive audience like I am doing right now.

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

At the moment, I am working on building my website. I want to start selling my photographic prints. This year for me is to focus on my photography solely and really get my business to take off and, in the process, do what I love, and that is to take photographs. 

The year ahead is still a pretty gray area due to all the regulations regarding Covid-19. In South Africa, our beaches, national parks, etc., are closed, and who knows when everything will be back to normal. Some client work needs to be rescheduled due to the Covid regulations, and some clients cancel shoots. Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we will be able to go out and shoot on location again, which will be a massive plus for client work and my landscape work. Being stuck inside for so long really takes a toll on you mentally.

At the end of the day, what I hope to get accomplished this year is to get my website up and to run as well as maybe starting a YouTube channel where I can teach some tips and tricks of the trade that I have learned over the years of being a photographer and generally just to have fun with a new platform. In this day and age where the internet is accessible to most of us, we must take advantage of it and teach ourselves new skills to ultimately better ourselves and our craft.

What’s in your camera bag these days? 

Gear is never-ending, there is so much that I still want to accumulate, but my gear is actually a pretty small kit. I use a Canon EOS R as my camera body, I have always used canon, and I don’t think I would easily switch to a different brand; there is nothing wrong with other brands, but I have used Canon gear for as long as I can remember and you build a certain amount of trust towards a brand after using them for such a long time. You know exactly where every button is and how to use the camera to its full potential.

I currently use only 2 lenses; the lens that is mainly on my camera is a Canon EF 24-105mm F4 L series lens that is a great lens to have in your kit. It’s super versatile, and with the F4 aperture, it’s perfect for landscape photography as the images come out clean and sharp. The second lens I use is a nifty fifty, the Canon EF 50mm F1.8 are fairly inexpensive lenses, but they deliver amazing results. The 50mm gives you a nice shallow depth of field and is also a very versatile option.

My camera bag is a Manfrotto Manhattan Mover 50, and it is perfect for a small to the medium-sized kit. It has dedicated pockets for your laptop and an iPad, and there is even a top compartment where a drone fits perfectly.

My main workstation is a custom-built PC with an i5 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 6GB Nvidia Graphics Card. I use a 31 inch 4k Samsung Space Monitor with my desktop, and I have a MacBook Pro 15 Inch 2017 that I use for photo & video editing on the go.

Picture shot by Keanu Boonzaier

What software and platforms do you use for your photography?

My go-to editing software is definitely the Adobe Creative Suite; they have some of the best industry-standard editing software out there. I mainly use Lightroom CC for photo editing, but lately, I have started using Lightroom mobile for some quick photo editing for Instagram. The mobile app is brilliant, and with the premium membership, you can really do many amazing things from the palm of your hand. Photoshop is also a very powerful tool that I use for editing. For video editing, I use Premiere Pro and After Effects.

File transfer to clients can sometimes be a hassle, so I mainly use either WeTransfer, PlusTransfer, or just Dropbox to get the larger files to my clients.

I don’t use many social media tools, but I do definitely help quite a bit. I use the Preview app for Instagram so I can plan out my posts and see what they will look like on my feed; it’s also a great tool to use for scheduling of content because, let’s be honest, sometimes you forget to post or are just simply too busy with some or other task. 

What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?

For me, personally, the whole journey from starting with an idea to the final product is the most rewarding part. If I had to choose, it would probably be when you take a shot, look down at your camera, and just knows that that photo will look so great once you have edited it.  

What is your favorite location to shoot? 

This is a tough one; there are so many amazing places to shoot, and each of them offers something unique, but one of the places that I really enjoyed to shoot was Namibia; There is a wide variety of different landscapes, cultures, and animals that make for some great stories and of course photographs.

I remember the first time I visited Namibia. I was stunned at how endless the landscapes were, and being there in the summer months was amazing with all the scattered thunderstorms over the desert.

What is your best memory as a photographer? 

One of my best memories as a photographer was the first time I had traveled overseas. I have always wanted to experience the world outside of my own country and was super excited to see all that the world had to offer.

The trip was in 2015 when I flew to Dubai on holiday. I knew that I would see some new things and experience a different way of life, but I never imagined it being such an amazing experience. For a long time, I shot mostly in black and white, and after that trip, it was like a switch flipped in my brain, and I started seeing color in a whole different way. I started shooting more landscapes and started to use color and learned to work with color.

I think this was such a good memory because this was the first time I had ever traveled abroad, and it impacted me as a photographer in such a positive way. There are so many places I would like to visit and photograph, and I know that with each trip, I will learn something new and better my work.

What makes the difference between a good image and an iconic image?

For me, the difference between a good and an iconic image isn’t necessarily the perfect technical application but rather the feeling or story that the image gives you when you look at it; I think that a great image should make you think, not just swipe.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

YouTube, for me, has definitely been the source of some great inspiration. Also, it has influenced me quite a bit. Many talented photographers create content on YouTube; they share tips and tricks of the trade that really help if you don’t know where to start or how to do something. Some Creators that I enjoy are Chris Hau, Peter McKinnon, Matti Haapoja, Jared Polin, Becki and Chris, and many more.

Advice for other photographers who want to get started or are just starting out

The best advice I can give you is just to go out and shoot, shoot as much as you can, take the time to craft your skill, and learn new skills. A good tip is to reach out to photographers in your area and go on a photo mission together; the chances are they might know of a cool spot or know a technique you don’t know about. And in the process, you can make new friends and grow your social network.

I often see photographers that have taken a photo of a certain location or subject, and the shot just didn’t come out that great, another tip I can give you is to take time to think about what you are photographing. Take a step back and see if there are better angles or if you should wait a couple more minutes for the light to be just right. This can really be the difference between a good photo and a great shot.

Where can we go to learn more?

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